Monday, February 23

The Swapper: Redemptive Games

The Swapper is a game that makes me scratch my head, nearly throw up, and appreciate my evolving morality.  It's a puzzle-platformer on PS3, PS4, and Vita based around creating clones of yourself and swapping your consciousness with theirs.  Switch puzzles abound, and there's a great sci-fi story around it.  It's the kind of sci-fi I really like, where the fictional science is central to the plot, the questions, and the answer.  I miss this kind of science fiction, and I'd like to see gaming play with it more, because I believe it's doubly effective in this medium.
The basic question of The Swapper has to do with identity, and how closely you tie your self to your form.  Throughout the game your clones will die.  Mostly from gravity.  But at one point, one of those bodies was your original.  It's gone, and every time you swap you get further and further from it.
I'm going to talk about the final moments, so there will be some spoilers.   You are given the choice to abandon your life and any hope of returning to civilization, or swapping with someone who can, stranding them forever, but escaping yourself.  If it's not entirely clear, when a game gets me thinking, I definitely recommend you play it.
I remember the first time I played Bioshock, and I was give the chance to commit a horrible act in order to survive.  And I did.  And I kept doing it.  I'm not sure what my thought process was at the time, but it probably was something about it being a game and not really counting or being statistically better.  But when I got to the end of The Swapper, I took some time to make my decision.  Helpfully, the game paused to let me take that time.  I can remember a younger me who believed in survival at any cost, who spoke like a violent, objectivist and openly mocked people with religious faith.  I suspect if we met now, I would hate him, well and truly.
But this is something I can track with games.  It takes a special kind of game to be able to notice it, and to treat my decisions as a player with the respect they deserve.  Mass Effect is a series that respects me decisions in name, but places distinct value judgments on them, as did many games around that time.  And I'm glad we've gotten away from it, I'm glad that if games are going to let me have a decision like that, then they're going to understand the validity of what I choose.
I've been on something, and I'm going to ask it seriously.  Can action in a game be a substitute for action in life?  That may be too broad.  How about: Can you be forgiven for a slight by playing through your redemption?  When I play a game, I am doing what is happening on the screen.  Even if what I am doing is not happening outside the game, and may have little ramification on the world, I am doing it.  I am choosing to forgo my resources in order to help a sick man, I am firing a gun into a crowd of people at an airport.  These moments matter to me, sure, but I wonder if they should matter more.  It might be a silly question, but it's a thing I am genuinely interested to hear your thoughts on.  Can your actions in a game be translated into actions outside of it?

Next time:  The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

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